I’ll bet you know the feeling. An opportunity comes along, and it seems like the proverbial answer to a prayer. Or your credit line at your bank is increased, just when you’re planning to get a car or some new furniture. It’s a great feeling, isn’t it?
But beware. Those pieces of good fortune have to be handled carefully. That’s certainly true in real life, and if crime fiction is anything to go by, it’s true there, too. And when things go wrong in a crime novel, they can go very wrong indeed.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds, we are introduced to Lady Cicely Horbury. She’s a former chorus girl who married Lord Stephen Horbury. At first, all went well enough. But Lady Horbury has developed a gambling problem, so she’s incurred a lot of debt. And she uses cocaine – another costly habit. Then, she finds a solution that she thinks will work. She meets Marie Morisot, AKA Madame Giselle, a Paris moneylender, who agrees to lend to her. It starts with small enough sums that Lady Horbury can repay. Then, Madame Giselle lends her larger sums – as much as Lady Horbury wants. In fact, as she later tells Hercule Poirot,
‘‘It seemed like a miracle at the time.’’
Then, the time comes when Lady Horbury can’t repay her debt. That’s when Madame Giselle threatens to use her ‘collateral’ – private information that she intends to give to Lord Stephen. Now, Lady Horbury is desperate, and Madame Giselle is unyielding. That’s the situation when Madame Giselle is murdered aboard a flight that Lady Horbury is also taking. So, she becomes a ‘person of interest’ as Poirot investigates.
Robert Colby’s novella No Experience Necessary is the story of Glenn Hadlock. He’s recently been released from prison, and he knows that, because he’s an ex-convict, his opportunities are very limited. But he’s got to pay the bills. So, he starts looking for whatever sort of job he can get. One day he sees an advertisement that especially interests him. Wealthy Victor Scofield is looking for a bodyguard/escort/chauffer for his wife, Eileen. Scofield is permanently disabled, so he can’t leave the house. But, as he tells Hadlock during the interview, he doesn’t want to restrict his wife similarly. Hadlock gets the job; and, at first, all goes very well. The position comes with a nice apartment, use of the Scofield cars, and a good salary. It’s not long, though, before things start to go wrong. And Hadlock soon learns that this job is fraught with a great deal of danger.
Walter and Joanna Eberhart get what they think is a golden opportunity when they discover the small suburban town of Stepford, Connecticut. The taxes are low, the schools are good, and the housing is affordable. So, the Eberharts and their two children make the move from New York City to Stepford. At first, all goes well. The family settles in, the children make new friends, and the house is everything they hoped it would be. But all is not as it seems. It starts when Joanna’s new friend, Bobbie Markowe, suspects that something might be very wrong with the town. At first, Joanna doesn’t believe her. But as time goes by, more and more things happen that suggest that Bobbie might be right. If she is, then something sinister is lurking beneath Stepford’s picture-perfect surface.
In Pascal Garnier’s novella How’s the Pain, we meet twenty-one-year-old Bernard Ferrand. He doesn’t have a university education or clear career goals. In fact, he’s a bit aimless. He gets what seems to be the perfect opportunity when ageing contract killer Simon Marechall offers him a job. Marechall wants Ferrand to serve as his driver for one last trip to the French coast, where he has some business to do. Ferrand doesn’t know what his new employer’s business is at first, but it’s an opportunity he can’t pass up. So, he goes along with the plan. Before he knows it, he’s in much, much deeper than he thought, and involved with a very dangerous business.
And then there’s Sinéad Crowley’s Can Anybody Help Me? In it, Yvonne and Gerry Mulhern and their newborn daughter, Róisín, move from London to Dublin, so that Gerry can take advantage of a very attractive job opportunity. At first, it seems like the right choice. Then, things start to go wrong. For one thing, Gerry works a lot, so he can’t do much baby minding or housework. And Yvonne is exhausted from the work of taking care of Róisín mostly on her own. What’s worse, she doesn’t really know anyone in Dublin. So, there’s no-one to confide in or to pitch in and help. Then Yvonne discovers Netmammy, an online forum for new mums. It seems like the perfect solution; Yvonne finds new friends among the other forum members, and gets answers to many of her questions. All goes well until one of the members seems to go ‘off the grid.’ Yvonne’s concerned enough to go to the police about it, but there’s really nothing they can do. Then, the body of an unidentified woman is discovered in an empty apartment. Detective Sergeant (DS) Claire Boyle investigates, and finds that the woman’s description is similar enough to that of Yvonne’s online friend that it could be the same person. If so, what does that mean for Netmammy? If not, then who is the dead woman? In the end, we learn that sometimes, what seems like a perfect solution…isn’t.
And that’s the thing about those golden opportunities. You have to be very careful before taking them. And even then, they don’t always work out as planned…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of an Ian Hunter song.